This article is part of an ongoing series Presentation Skills: The Secret Weapon of Career Success.

If you’re thinking presentation skills aren’t critical for you because you “don’t present much,” think again! Virtually everyone presents all the time. Certified Speaking Professional and Founder of MotionFirst, Meridith Elliott Powell reminds us, “Presentation skills are how we connect, engage, and influence others.” Whether you’re presenting your views during a staff meeting, explaining a new project to a senior leader in the organization or even introducing yourself at a professional organization event, learning to present your ideas in a compelling way can be a secret weapon for long term career success. Furthermore, these skills don’t just impact one’s professional image and reputation but also can have an immediate impact on business results. Partner in Deloitte’s Risk and Financial Advisory practice, Jason Campbell shares, “My clients are incredibly busy, and many people want to help them solve their problems. If you can’t explain your solutions to a client’s problems in a concise articulate fashion, you’ll lose them.”

While seasoned professionals are often comfortable presenting for a few minutes during a team meeting, the thought of presenting a more formal presentation or being an event speaker can be an intimidating proposition. The truth is that you don’t have to be a professional speaker to learn and incorporate some of their best practices. Here are four specific tips any professional can use to elevate their next presentation from good to great!

Tip #1 – Develop a slam dunk opener that can be used for various topics/situations

National Speakers Association CEO Mary Lue Peck, insists “Presenters have to win over an audience within their first few seconds on stage.” Without a doubt, the opening of any presentation is critical. This is the presenter’s opportunity to grab the audience’s attention, set the tone and essentially prove to the audience that the presenter is deserving of their time. It’s so smart to rehearse and repurpose a rock solid opener because it gives the presenter a chance to calm their nerves and build their confidence with the group. Invariably, a high impact successful opener generates a positive response from the group that sets a high energy tone for the presentation overall.

There are many options for developing a repeatable slam dunk opener, but one of my favorites is facilitating an ice breaker with broad applicability. For many years, I’ve used this ice breaker that engages the group from the first minute and reinforces key points that apply to most of my sessions. In this case the debrief reinforces that it’s important to think outside the box and be open to new ideas or approaches. That’s a generic (but powerful) point that I can apply to a range of sessions so I can use the ice breaker as reliable opener over and over. While it’s certainly important to customize presentation content to a specific audience/event, using a more generic opener for just the first few minutes can be smart if you can directly tie it to your presentation topic.

Tip #2 – Engage your audience by walking around and posing questions

Now that you’ve started with a great opener, keep energy levels high by engaging your audience throughout the session. Presenters who stay fixed behind a podium with their hands glued to a slide clicker rarely receive rave reviews. Powell warns that it’s a mistake to just focus on the facts, data and content in a presentation. “Professionals mistakenly assume that presentations are about the words you speak, and the words are so little of the message. It’s about how you move, the tone of your voice, and the stories you tell.” Whether you’re presenting in a conference room at the end of your floor or in a huge ballroom at a professional conference, walking around can be a critical tactic for engaging the audience. Instead of being stuck staring at the same spot, participants now turn to follow your direction and the physical movement naturally creates more engagement.

Another great way to bring participants into the presentation is by asking them questions. For example, if you’re presenting a new online invoice submission process, you certainly could just rattle off bullet points explaining the transition or you could instead pose a few questions to generate visceral interest in the topic – e.g. “How many of you hate the clunky invoice process? Who has waited more than 30 days for invoice reimbursement?” When you pose the questions, it not only engages participants but also personalizes the message. The finer details of the new process might feel wonky and dry, but there’s much more enthusiasm in the room when participants can share their personal gripes and frustrations so tap into that. At the end of the day, the more they’re participating in some way, the more engaged they are. Peck reminds us, “Presenters have to stay engaging and energetic otherwise their audience would have rather just read a blog post or book.”

Tip #3 – Use examples and stories to reinforce key points

The best presenters find ways to bring the content to life. Two great ways to do just that are sharing examples and telling stories.

Let’s consider an example….If you’re presenting findings from a recent employee survey and the results show that 35% of employees indicate they don’t feel their manager cares about them as a person, it’s certainly helpful to share that data. However, it’s probably more impactful to present specific examples as well.

“A marketing manager mentioned that when she returned from bereavement leave, she was disappointed that her boss’ first comments to her focused on her need to put in overtime to get her project back on track.”
“Several respondents indicated that they doubt their manager could name one of their kids.”

Another great technique is story telling. Powell advises, “Learn to tell stories to drive home your points – people connect and remember stories.” Keynote presenter and author of Stories That Stick, Kindra Hall insists, “Stories make the presentation more memorable overall, and they are what participants will actually remember.” Indeed, stories provide a powerful opportunity to make a point that may resonate and connect with the audience in a completely different way.

Tip #4 – Look the part and get in the zone

Confidence is such a key part of presenting and communicating well, and looking and feeling the part boosts confidence which ultimately enhances the presenter’s overall performance. Professional speaker Heather Monahan explains,

“How you dress impacts how you feel about yourself. I am very deliberate about which colors I choose to wear and what outfits I select before a presentation. How you stand will impact the audience a lot as well. I always write reminders on the bottom of my shoe that I CAN and I WILL slay this talk. It puts a smile on my face as I am called to begin.”
Professional speaker Heather Monahan